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Quien sabe, indeed.

October 12, 2010, 8:26 pm

There’s been some debate over whether the term “illegal immigrant” should be retired.  I think it should, largely because the bare “illegal” is used as a slur and the longer “illegal immigrant” doesn’t reliably pick out a specific class of people or what’s wrong with their legal status.  The U.S. government treats people very differently depending on the specifics of how they got here.

This isn’t just fun with intensions and extensions; it’s significant to the debate.  Around four million people who are here unlawfully entered legally; they’re people who could get visas and later violated the terms of them.   They are people with slightly more options, because in some cases having overstayed a visa isn’t a bar to becoming a permanent resident from within the country.  Some estimated number (anywhere from about two to about 30 million, depending on who you ask; having entered without inspection  means no one counted you coming in) are people who came in by sneaking in.  Every legal option for them that’s in place now requires them to leave the country first, and usually wait out a ban of ten years.

So, yeah, ditch “illegal” in favor of using words that actually have some meaning.  And some cases are heartwarming (and, I’ll admit, odd, in that impersonating an American citizen is about the quickest way to get a lifetime, non-waiverable ban; but there’s about a zillion exceptions in immigration law and she may have very well fallen into one of them.)

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